Martian Whirlwind Takes the 'Thorofare'
The lower portion of a Martian dust devil was captured by one of the Navcams on NASA's Perseverance rover on Aug. 30, 2023, the 899th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The video, which has been enhanced in order to show maximal detail, was sped up 20 times and composed of 21 frames taken four seconds apart.
Using data from the imagery, mission scientists determined that the dust devil was about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) away, at a location nicknamed "Thorofare Ridge," and moving east to west at a clip of about 12 mph (19 kph). They calculated its width to be about 200 feet (60 meters). While only the bottom 387 feet (118 meters) of the swirling vortex are visible in the camera frame, scientists used the dust devil's shadow to estimate its full height at about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers).
A key objective for Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet's geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA's Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
For more about Perseverance: mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/